SHOT STRATEGY – PRACTICE WITH A PURPOSE by Nancy Stern

1 – SERVE Strategy:

Make sure you get your serve in. Keep your opponents deep in their court and use a variety of serves to keep them guessing. A deep serve makes it more difficult for your opponents to gain the NVZ advantage. Don’t rush when you serve, use the 2 second rule.

There are basically 3 types of serves you can choose to practice.
1 – power serve (low, deep, hard – less time to attack ball, keeps them deep)
2 – high lob (soft, deep – makes opponent generate own power & keeps them deep)
3 – short angle serve (soft or fast – brings opponent up but out of neutral court position)
Remember, your opponents’ skill and court position will help determine the best choice of serve. Do not OVERUSE one choice, it is good to mix up your serve options but be smart, if your serve choice is working, continue, if not change your option.

2 – RETURN OF SERVE Strategy:

In pickleball, the receiving team has the advantage as their partner is already at the NVZ. The player making the ROS needs to hit a shot that enables them to get to the NVZ with their partner. A slower pace on your shot gives you more time to get up with your partner. A high lob return of serve gives you lots of time to get to the NVZ. As well, a ROS that lands deep in the opposition courts makes the 3rd shot more difficult for your opponents. A short serve is good to use occasionally but it also allows opponent to get to NVZ much quicker.

There are 3 basic returns of serve that you can practice.
1 – deep to baseline ROS either soft or hard paced – Target area can depend on opposition (middle causes confusion and keeps both players back, forehand/backhand of opponent may be weaker)
2 – deep high lob ROS (this gives you more time to join your partner at NVZ) – Target area can depend on opposition (middle causes confusion and keeps both players back, forehand/backhand of opponent may be weaker)
3 – short ROS (use after you have sent opponents back on some ROS, good if opponent has mobility issues)

3 – THIRD SHOT DROP Strategy:

The third shot is one of the most important shots in pickleball. The serving team is at a disadvantage as they need to stay deep to see what type of a return the opposition plays. The 3rd shot strategy is to get you and your partner up to the NVZ as quickly as you can. The return of serve will usually dictate the 3rd shot for you to play.

There are basically four types of 3rd shots you can choose to practice.
1 – drop shot (when both opponents are at the NVZ) *This is the most difficult to master
2 – groundstroke to deep opponent (when person returning serve does not come up to NVZ)
3 – hard drive (if a mid-court return or when both opponents are at the NVZ and weak at volleying)
4 – lob (when both opponents are at the NVZ)

Remember, your opponents’ skill and return of serve will help determine the best choice of 3rd shot. Do not OVERUSE one choice, it is good to mix up your 3rd shot options but be smart, if your 3rd shot choice is working, continue, if not change your option.

4 – DINKING AT THE NVZ – THE SHORT GAME Strategy:

A good dink/drop shot into the NVZ neutralizes opponents ‘hard or power’ game. It is very difficult to hit a hard, power shot when your paddle is below the net. The dink/drop makes your opponent play from a defensive position rather than offensive. The strategy with dinking is to make your opponent MOVE and to be PATIENT while you wait for an opening to power hit the ball to opponents feet or through the opening.
There are three targets to aim for while you are practicing dinking at the NVZ. Each of these shots is intended to make your opponent move & hit up. Targeting feet pushes opponent back and forces them to hit an ‘up’ ball.
1 – sideline of near opponent – (forces opponent to regain position)
2 – middle low to backhand side – (causes confusion for players in middle)
3 – cross court wide – (pushes opponent out of court & forces opponent to regain position)
Often the shot you choose depends on where you get the ball. A cross court ball that pushes you out of court should be returned cross court to give you more time to reset position. Be careful of dropping to near opponent more than 2 times as they can jump out of court for a hard drive.